Thursday, June 22, 2017

Finally - the printed book!


I've just received a proof copy of my book, The Booklovers' Guide to Wine from my publisher at Books&Books Press. For any writer, this is always the most exciting moment; holding the physical reality of all that work and research ... not to mention all that wine!

Publication is still planned for September. Can't wait.

Monday, June 19, 2017

DESCRIBING WINE:

One of the great challenges of wine appreciation is describing what we taste, not just to other people but even to ourselves. Translating what we smell or taste into words is far more difficult than translating what we see into words. While dogs for example experience the world mainly through their sense of smell, we humans are far more visual and we describe the world in terms of what we see with our eyes. From an early age we are encouraged to 'show and tell' but we are never taught to 'smell and tell'. All languages have a rich and sophisticated vocabulary for describing what we see, and we can be very precise in terms of color, shape, size and visual distance when communicating with others - but such a vocabulary does not exist for smells and tastes. There is no semantic tradition in any culture or in any language to describe the things we smell, in the way that we are able to identify things that we see.

In fact the whole process of smelling is limited to a single word: smell. There is a smell coming from the mushrooms; I smell the mushrooms; the mushrooms smell. The same single word is used to describe the odor, the detection of the odor and the action of the odor. Compare that to all the words we have for seeing, looking, watching, gazing, observing etc. We must therefore look around in our personal memories for similar smells and tastes to compare with the wine and then, when trying to share our experience, make subjective comparisons: "it tastes like dark chocolate with a hint of mushrooms and damp leaves."

Another problem is that the part of the brain which processes smells also handles emotions and memory; it's not only the most primitive part of the brain, it's also the most subjective and personal. Smells are chemicals, and as the wine is exposed to air and evaporates, chemical molecules rise from the glass, through our nose to the receptors in our olfactory cortex.

The olfactory cortex which evolved over the eons into the amygdala, is the very oldest part of our brain, and is where emotions and memories are processed. The very earliest job of the brain was to process smell: does it smell good or bad? Is it something I can eat, something I would like to have sex with or something I should run away from before it eats me? Memories of smells were therefore critical to survival and, even in the amygdala of the modern brain, the chemical processing of smells and emotions, memory and desire, are all intimately entwined at a primitive level.

What the olfactory receptors do is transform the chemical information of the wine’s aroma molecules into electrical signals. These electrical signals travel into the brain’s cerebral cortex; the deepest, most primitive and least ‘conscious’ part of the brain where the electronic impulses are translated back into the memory of our mother’s kiss, a feeling of hunger, the desire for a woman, the pleasure of luxury, the terror of darkness or the lingering scent of invisible lilacs. These involuntary but powerful stirrings of our deepest emotions can all be released by the scent of a loved one’s pillow, the fragrance of a rose upon the evening air or the delicate aromas released by a glass of wine. Nothing is more powerful or evocative and less subject to our verbal skills or logical analysis than our sense of smell.

 One of my favorite times of year is the fall when I go mushroom hunting in France, combing through the woods of Perigord looking for cèpe mushrooms and truffles; stepping through the fallen leaves and savoring the musky dampness of the decaying vegetation. Most Spanish red wines have an earthy aroma that reminds me of my days in the woods and so for me the association of earthiness and damp leaves is pleasing and enhances my enjoyment of a good Tempranillo. But to another person, with different memories and experiences, the concept of damp organic decay might be totally disgusting and my enthusiastic description of the wine might persuade them never to try it. Worse still, because of the unpleasant associations created by my description, a person tasting the wine might possibly dislike it and unfairly discover in it all the bad qualities they imagined that I had suggested.

Wine drinkers therefore need to consciously train themselves to develop a commonly accepted vocabulary that will allow them to discuss wines with other people. With practice and concentration they can decide if a wine reminds them of fruit, or of vegetables, or wood, or fresh-cut-grass. If it reminds them of fruit - is it a berry fruit, a tropical fruit or a citrus? Over time, wine drinkers will discover a common language that enables them to share their impressions of a wine with other people using words and allusions that are mutually understood. But to develop such a vocabulary takes practice and conscious effort. The difference between a professional taster and the rest of us is training. Unfortunately the best wine class in the world, the best teacher, the best book can never impart that knowledge. It has to be accumulated, sip by sip, sniff by sniff, glass by glass by each individual wine drinker. The UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel at www.winearoma.wheel.com is a wonderful tool that will help the true connoisseur differentiate between the aromas of passion fruit and boysenberries but for the rest of us just learning to isolate the difference between a fruity taste and an earthy aroma is a good place to begin. Eric Asimov the excellent wine critic for the New York Times argues that we can divide all wines into sweet or savory. By sweet he does not mean sugary; he is rather referring to the impression of sweet that we get from a wine that is intensely fruity, plush, viscous and mouth-filling. By savory he means wines which are more austere with smoky, herbal, earthy and mineral tastes.

We are not limited to food or taste metaphors, as a visual species we have other tools to describe wine. Karen MacNeil, the well-respected wine critic and author of the Wine Bible quoted a restaurant owner’s description of Viognier wine. “If a good German Riesling is like an ice-skater (fast, racy with a cutting edge), and Chardonnay is like a middle-heavyweight boxer (paunchy, solid, powerful), then Viognier would have to be described as a female gymnast – beautiful and perfectly shaped, with muscle but superb agility and elegance.”  Britt Karlson, the Swedish wine critic once described an unfortunate wine as "… ideal for serving at a funeral dinner, because it provokes a fitting mood of sorrow and grief."


Alternatively we can seek our metaphor in music. In one of his Italian detective novels, A Long Finish, Michael Dibdin wrote: “Barolo is the Bach of wine … strong, supremely structured, a little forbidding, but absolutely fundamental. Barbaresco is the Beethoven, taking those qualities and lifting them to heights of subjective passion and pain … and Brunello is its Brahms, the softer, fuller, romantic afterglow of so much strenuous excess.” Those people who know their German composers and are familiar with Italian wines will recognize the insightful truth behind Dibdin’s metaphors. For those unfamiliar however, it could sound merely pretentious. And of course, that is the great danger of talking about wine; the metaphors can become too flowery and ostentatious. “This is a cheeky little Pinot; unctuously naughty with a promise of heavenly bliss, like a nun slipping out of her habit.”

Roald Dahl, that wonderful British novelist should really be given the last word on the subject: “Richard Pratt was a famous gourmet…. He organized dinners where sumptuous dishes and rare wines were served. He refused to smoke for fear of harming his palate, and when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. “A prudent wine,” he would say, “rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.” Or, “a good-humored wine, benevolent and cheerful—slightly obscene, perhaps, but nonetheless good humored.” (From ‘Taste’ a short story first published in 1945).




Sunday, June 18, 2017

New Wine Class

My new wine class begins tomorrow evening, Monday June 19th.
It's about the 25th or so program that I've conducted at Books & Books and, as always, I am excited about starting a new class and meeting a whole new group of students.

What is always amusing, to me, is how this group of adult strangers will awkwardly interact during the first class - not knowing each other, not knowing what to expect - and yet by the final class they will all be best friends, exchanging e-mail addresses and knowing so much about each other's wine preferences - and so much else.

If you were not aware of this class, unfortunately it is sold out, but I am sure we will run another class in the Fall. Just contact Jillian@booksandbooks.com and she will make sure you're included in the next session.

Summer Wine Class: June 19 - July 24, 2017

  • An intense six week (12 Hour) program designed for anyone who enjoys wine. Each 2-hour class is held on Monday evenings after work between 6:00 and 8:00 PM at Books & Books, Coral Gables, Florida.
  • Four individual wines are tasted during each evening session for a total of twenty-four different wines by the end of the program
  • Limited to a maximum of sixteen sympathetic souls who enjoy sharing a rigorous, weekly learning experience in the Coral Gables bookstore
  • The final class is followed by a dinner specially prepared by Chef Allen to pair with the 4 wines which the students voted to be their favorites during the course of the program.
Contact Jillian at The Cafe at Books & Books to confirm the dates and to reserve your place.  The $299 fee covers 12 hours of lectures, 24 different wines, all class materials and a four course wine-pairing dinner specially prepared by Chef Allen.

Gables store: 305.442.4408

Sunday, June 11, 2017

FOOD AND WINE PAIRING

What sort of food?   The very first and most important step is to decide whether your food is going to be delicate and mild tasting or hearty and flavorful. Is it going to be fatty or lean? Will it be rich, buttery and creamy or will it be thin, sharp and acidic? The wine and the food must balance each other so that a hearty dish will match a hearty wine while a mild flavored food will require a delicate wine. What is important is that neither the wine nor the food should overwhelm the other.
So a delicate Dover Sole for example would go well with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio but not with a Chardonnay; while a hearty steak-and-kidney pie would complement a Malbec but probably overwhelm a Beaujolais. However, the Beaujolais would go well with a light lunch such as cold ham, charcuterie and salad while the Chardonnay would be the perfect match for a rich chicken in cream sauce.

Traditional Red /meat: White /fish rule:   Some fish, such as cod, haddock and mackerel as well as all shellfish, are high in iodine, which is why red wines don’t do well with them. The iodine content reacts with the tannins in red wine and makes both the fish and the wine taste metallic and nasty. However, red wines like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or even certain Chiantis that are not high in tannins go very well with fish such as salmon or sea bass. Meats like chicken or pork go very well with full bodied white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling or even Gewürztraminer and rich patés like foie-gras in Perigord are traditionally enjoyed with a late harvest white wine like Monbazillac.

Tannins and Acids:  Tannins not only enhance the complexity of the wine itself but are also very useful for cleansing the palette of fatty foods. Lamb chops for example or a grilled beef steak will both be improved with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa whose astringent tannins will strip away the fatty coating inside your mouth.

Acids perform the same function as tannins in cutting through fat and so a fried chicken or smoked salmon, which would be overwhelmed by the tannins of a Cabernet would respond well to the cleansing acids of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Acids in wine should also match the acid in food. Pasta with a tomato sauce or indeed any food over which you squeeze lime or lemon juice should be paired with a light acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even Alvarinho. Cream sauces on the other hand will react badly to acid and so should be paired with richer more full bodied whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier.

National pairings and wine:  When in doubt, just match the wine with the nationality of the food. The two have evolved together over generations and – within the obvious rules listed above – will always complement each other. For example a pasta dish will almost always do well with Chianti and a Boeuf Bourguignon will always improve with Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

In my book, the section “Forty wines to try before you die” lists twenty-four different varietals in order of lightness with the more full bodied and heavier wines listed last. However, bear in mind that varietals often vary depending on their origin. For example, a Chardonnay from Chablis which is fairly flinty and austere would go well with snails or a fish simply grilled with butter and garlic but not with a chicken in cream sauce.  Chicken and cream sauce requires a more full bodied Chardonnay from California or Australia.

The following websites have excellent food and wine pairing tables and suggestions:



Friday, June 9, 2017

ACIDS IN WINE:

While the word “acid” evokes images of car batteries rather than a refreshing beverage, acids play an important role in both the making and tasting of wine. The two major acids, tartaric and malic, are both naturally present in the grapes as they first develop on the vine.

Tartaric acid, Unlike malic acid, is not so common in the plant world and, outside the tropics, is almost exclusive to the grape vine. One of the ways that archeologists have been able to identify ancient wine-producing sites is through traces of tartaric acid. Because tartaric acid is unique to the grape vine, residue of tartaric crystals in amphora and other containers provides an indication of a winemaking culture. Depending on the varietal of the grape and the temperature, tartaric acids can sometimes crystalize in the wine. When this happens, the crystals sink to the bottom of the bottles, where they resemble broken glass or “wine diamonds.” Although they are perfectly harmless and tasteless, consumers object to these crystals, and so most winemakers try to remove excess tartaric acid before bottling.

Malic acid is found in just about every fruit and berry plant and is most commonly associated with apples, which is where it derives its name, malum, the Latin word for apple. It is that sharp astringent taste of green apples which is most recognizable in an acidic wine. The malic acids play an important role in the growth of the vine, providing energy during photosynthesis and, at veraison, metabolizing into sugar. It is the malic acid which provides the sharpness to the flavors and which balances the sweetness of any residual sugars, as well as complementing the bitterness of the tannins in red wine. Too much malic acid in a wine will make it tart and unpleasantly astringent, and too little will make the wine taste flabby and dead.  The correct amount of malic acid is what provides the balance and harmony of a great wine.

Lactic acid. Unlike the other acids, is not found in the grapes, but is a product of a secondary fermentation. Most white wines and some red wines are not subject to the secondary fermentation, and therefore do not contain any lactic acid. Secondary, or Malolactic Fermentation, is the process by which certain bacteria convert the tart malic acids into the softer lactic acids. Lactic acid was first derived from sour milk in the eighteenth century, and the name comes from the Latin word for milk, lact. Most red wines and most Chardonnays undergo malolactic fermentation, partly to soften the tartness of the malic acids but also for the improved “mouth-feel” that results. Unlike, say, a Sauvignon Blanc, which retains the green-apple-sharpness of the malic acids, a Chardonnay following malolactic fermentation will have the softer, more “buttery” feel and flavor of the lactic acid.

Acetic acid is a product of the primary fermentation when the yeasts are converting the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. If the wine is further exposed to oxygen, the alcohol will be converted by bacteria into ascetic acid and eventually into vinegar. Not a good acid.

In addition to balancing the taste of the sugars and tannins in wine to create the complex harmony that wine drinkers so enjoy, acids also play an important role in protecting and stabilizing the wine on its journey from the initial fermentation barrels to its happy arrival in our glass.




Saturday, June 3, 2017

SULPHITES:

Like tannins, sulphites are often mentioned in connection with wine and their role and effects are often misunderstood. All wines contain sulphur dioxide, SO2, in various forms, collectively known as sulphites and even in completely natural wine it is present at concentrations of up to 10 milligrams per liter. The most important thing to understand is that sulphites are an entirely natural bi-product of yeast metabolism during fermentation and would be found in wines even if the winemaker added nothing to the juice. 

The Romans used to burn sulphur beneath their upturned amphora or wine containers to sterilize them before use and winemakers have been adding various amounts of sulphites ever since to prevent bacteria and bad yeasts from developing in the wine. In the late 1840s European vineyards were nearly all destroyed by a disease called oïdium and were saved only at the last moment by nation-wide applications of sulpher dust. 

Sulphites play a very important role in preventing oxidization and maintaining a wine’s freshness. Even so, compared to processed foods, dried fruit, sodas, packaged meats or even commercial fruit juice the amount of sulphites in wine is miniscule. On visits to Europe over the years, I have often been given bottles of wine made by friends for local consumption, not for export. These fresh wines which were delicious when drunk locally, had been made without the addition of sulphites and were sadly undrinkable by the time I had brought them home to the USA.

U.S. wine labels are required to indicate if the sulphite level exceeds 10 parts per million (ppm). Many red wines contain sulphite levels of 50 ppm but this should be compared with the 2,000 ppm sulphite level of French fries to put it in perspective. Some people blame the sulphites for the headaches they suffer when drinking red wine but in fact red wine has much lower sulphites than white wine and headaches are more likely to be caused by the tannins, the histamines or even the extra alcohol in red wines. Despite some of the hysteria about sulphites, the levels of sulpher dioxide in wines is too small to have any adverse health effects except for those people who are clinically allergic to sulphites, and the FDA estimates this to be less than 1% of the population. 

If you have eaten dried fruit or French fries with no ill-effects, then continue to drink your wine and not worry about sulphites.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Oldest Bordeaux?

There is an interesting article in last month's Vivino discussing what is possibly the oldest bottle of Bordeaux in the world. http://tinyurl.com/ydxg6yde

For those readers who are interested in really old, pre-Phylloxera wines, I must recommend a wonderful book by Benjamin Wallace entitled 'The Billionaire's Vinegar.' http://tinyurl.com/ybwdyqwc

Enjoy!



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TANNINS & WINE

 Throughout my book and indeed any discussion of wine, there are many references to tannins. Tannins are chemical compounds known as phenols which are found throughout nature in most growing plants, in fact 50% of the dry weight of leaves consist entirely of tannins. Tannin is actually tasteless, it is a texture; you feel the coarse particles which stick to the surface of your tongue and teeth. The best way to think of tannins is to imagine sucking on a used teabag. The puckering and astringent sensation in your mouth is the tang of tannin. One theory for the prevalence of tannins is that it is Nature’s way to discourage animals from eating the leaves and stalks before the fruit and seeds are ready for dissemination. Some grape varietals, especially white grapes, have little or no tannins while other grape varietals – most notably Cabernet Sauvignon – have very high levels of tannins in the skin.

The word tannin comes from the German word for oak tree ‘tannenbaum’ from which we derive the words tan and tanning. (Oak tannins have always been used for turning animal hides into leather.) As we will see later, the tannins in oak play an important part in the aging of wine in oak barrels. A red wine with very low tannins such as Beaujolais can be drunk extremely young. A Bordeaux wine with very high tannins cannot be drunk when young; it would be impossibly astringent. Wines high in tannins need to be aged, preferably in oak, until, with the passing of the years, the harsh taste of tannins has mellowed. Moreover, with age, the Bordeaux wine has not only lost its astringency and become drinkable, it has substantially improved and those initially harsh tannins have added complexity and maturity to the taste. Without tannins, Beaujolais will not age and will deteriorate rather than improve while, thanks to tannins, Bordeaux wines just get better and better.

Although it’s true that thick-skinned grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon have more tannins than thin skinned grapes such as Pinot Noir, there are too many other variables to make a definitive list of grape varietals by tannin level. Where and how the actual grapes are harvested, how long the skins are macerated during fermentation and how the winemaker treats the must and how he blends the juices makes it impossible to say that a Sangiovese will always be less tannic than a Syrah or more tannic than a Zinfandel. A selection of grape varietals is listed in Chapter Eight from light to heavy or full bodied, but it is a general list and includes more factors than just tannins.


In her splendid Wine Bible, Karen McNeil, has listed red varietals by tannic level, from least to most tannic: Gamay / Pinot Noir / Sangiovese / Grenache / Zinfandel / Syrah (Shiraz) / Malbec / Merlot / Mourvédre / Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon / Petite Sirah / Nebbiolo.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Best Wine in World is British!

It has been named the world's best white wine, impressing a panel of 200 international experts so much that they scored it 95 out of 100.

Beating off 17,200 other entries, it won the Platinum Best in Show at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.

Yet it is a humble £13.95 bottle from Norfolk, a region that has hitherto made little impression on fine wine's top table.

Winbirri Vineyards' Bacchus 2015 wine was the victor, with judges describing it as the ‘perfect aperitif wine’.

They said the wine had a ‘complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus’. It was deemed to be 'very elegant and delicate with a slight spritz and a long, clean finish’.

Winbirri is a family-run vineyard, beside Norfolk Broads National Park, that was established in 2007. Like other wine producers in the UK, Winbirri has benefited from increasingly warm summers.

Lee Dyer, Winbirri's head winemaker, predicted that Norfolk wines would continue winning prizes. He told the Eastern Daily Press: "Norfolk has so much potential as a wine region, particularly when it comes to still wines.

"I think Bacchus has to be the jewel in the crown and, more importantly, for my site as it just works so well here. The flavour profiles and aromas we can achieve here from our vines are second to none."

The news is a boost for the English wine industry following a difficult spring. Unseasonal frosts in April have severely damaged this year's harvests across Kent and Sussex. Winemakers described conditions as the worst they had seen for 20 years.

From: The Telegraph.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/wine/worlds-best-wine-1395-a-bottle-dry-white-norfolk/










Friday, May 19, 2017

Wise Wine Quotes

“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things and small people talk about wine.”
Fran Lebowitz

“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.”
Benjamin Franklin


Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Ernest Hemingway

“I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.”

Basil Fawlty, “Fawlty Towers”



Thursday, May 18, 2017

An Interesting Decade:

Altogether, the 1860s proved to be an eventful decade for French wine. To misquote Marcel Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes: “It started well but ended badly.”

1855 – Napoleon III orders the classification of Bordeaux wines

1861 – Classification of Beaune

1862 – M. Borty plants some American vines in his garden in Provence

1866 – Pasteur’s Etudes sur le Vin published

1867 – Most vineyards in Southern France appear to be dying

1870 – French government offers 30,000FR prize for a cure to Phylloxera

1871 – Proust born. France invaded and defeated by Prussia. Napoleon III abdicates. Phylloxera continues to destroy French vineyards



Monday, May 15, 2017

Robert M. Parker [2]

    Parker’s wine ratings dramatically affect the price of wine on the market. It is claimed that the difference between a Parker score of 85 and 95 can be ten-million dollars to the value of the wine. A wine that is rated at less than 70 can bankrupt the wine grower. The prices that people pay for wine, the wines that retailers and restaurants select to offer for sale, these are all affected by the judgments of Robert Parker. Even though his judgments may be fair and his opinions correct, I believe that it is wrong and unhealthy for any one individual to have that much power. Of course there are other wine critics and magazines who are also rating wines, but not only have most of them adopted Parker’s scoring system, most of them have also adopted his tastes and his preferences for the rich and powerful, oaky, fruit-forward reds that he so admires. Consequently we are seeing an international standardization of taste, a ‘Parkerization’ of wine.

    But the ripple effect goes even further than the wine market; it reaches as far as the cellar and vineyard. A winegrower who may have a vision of a unique wine he wants to make may hesitate or change his mind when thinking about how Parker might rate it.

    Of course there are many who oppose Parker and the style of wine he promotes; the ‘hedonistic fruit bombs’ – or ‘leg-spreaders’ as they are called. Parker once referred to such people as an “anti-flavor wine elite”, a phrase which went viral on Twitter and which has since been adopted by the very people he criticized. Parker’s detractors now sign themselves AFWE.

    Hence my ambivalence about Robert Parker: I like his writing, I share his tastes and I greatly respect his knowledge. Robert Parker should also be admired for making wine popular and accessible to Americans and he should be commended for cutting through much of the jargon and old-world mystique and bringing a New World freshness to the business. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not read his thoughtful tasting notes or his informed reviews; they just see the numbers – the Parker Points on the shelf-talkers. That’s where power corrupts absolutely.

    I just wish there were a couple more Robert Parkers, equally informed and passionate, with similar influence but with different tastes – not to mention a preference for a 20-point scoring system.


    For a list of all the French wines that Parker has awarded 100 points in his system, go to http://www.comptoirdesmillesimes.com/blog/les-meilleurs-vins-robert-parker/ 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

ROBERT M. PARKER [1]

 Robert Parker is an American wine critic and probably the most influential individual in the world of wine. I have very mixed feelings about Mr. Parker which I should explain before proceeding any further. Robert Parker started becoming known for his writing about wine in the mid-70s at just about the time that the Californian wineries began their renaissance; he has written a number of books on wine and he also edits the very influential Wine Advocate newsletter. As mentioned above, Parker’s 100-point scoring system has now become the industry standard. He is a man with a very deep knowledge of and passion about wine, especially the great reds from Bordeaux, the Rhone and California, and he has reached his position of eminence through hard work, dedication and simple expertise. Nonetheless I have two problems with Mr. Parker.

My first objection is personal and selfish. Parker and I share the same tastes; we both like bold, broad-shouldered, swaggering reds. For years I enjoyed drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo and Barbaresco which were all affordable until Parker discovered them. By writing about these wines and bestowing his blessing he made them insanely popular. As a result, these wines are now extremely expensive and I can no longer afford to drink them.

My second objection owes more to Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I do not in any way mean that Parker himself has become corrupted, far from it, he is rightly proud of his high ethical standards; impartiality and independence from the wine industry. But unfortunately his influence is now so powerful that it has affected if not corrupted absolutely everybody else in the industry. For example, one of Parker’s early favorite winemakers was Michael Rolland in Pomerol whose wines Parker always praised. Rolland also worked as a consultant for various other neighboring wineries, creating a similar style wine to his own. These wines also scored well with Parker and so, inevitably, other wine makers beyond Bordeaux started hiring Rolland as a consultant and very soon Michael Rolland became the first ‘flying winemaker’. Jetting around the world, from Chile and Argentina to Australia and California, Rolland helps fellow winemakers create the style of wine that will score well in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate ratings, and thus be featured on ‘shelf talkers’ in wine stores everywhere. There is even a wine analysis company in Sonoma, called Enologix which uses complex chemical algorithms to advise winemakers exactly how to manipulate their winemaking techniques in order to get Parker scores in excess of 90 points.




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Describing Wine [3]

We are not limited to food or taste metaphors, as a visual species we have other tools to describe wine. Karen MacNeil, the well-respected wine critic and author of the Wine Bible quoted a restaurant owner’s description of Viognier wine. “If a good German Riesling is like an ice-skater (fast, racy with a cutting edge), and Chardonnay is like a middle-heavyweight boxer (paunchy, solid, powerful), then Viognier would have to be described as a female gymnast – beautiful and perfectly shaped, with muscle but superb agility and elegance.”

Alternatively we can seek our metaphor in music. In one of his Italian detective novels A Long Finish, Michael Dibdin wrote: “Barolo is the Bach of wine … strong, supremely structured, a little forbidding, but absolutely fundamental. Barbaresco is the Beethoven, taking those qualities and lifting them to heights of subjective passion and pain … and Brunello is its Brahms, the softer, fuller, romantic afterglow of so much strenuous excess.” Those people who know their German composers and are familiar with Italian wines will recognize the insightful truth behind Dibdin’s metaphors. For those unfamiliar however, it could sound merely pretentious. 

And of course, that is the great danger of talking about wine; the metaphors can become too flowery and ostentatious. “This is a cheeky little Pinot; unctuously naughty with a promise of heavenly bliss, like a nun slipping out of her habit.”


Roald Dahl, that wonderful British novelist should really be given the last word on the subject: “Richard Pratt was a famous gourmet…. He organized dinners where sumptuous dishes and rare wines were served. He refused to smoke for fear of harming his palate, and when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. “A prudent wine,” he would say, “rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.” Or, “a good-humored wine, benevolent and cheerful—slightly obscene, perhaps, but nonetheless good humored.” (From ‘Taste’ a short story first published in 1945).


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

DESCRIBING WINE [2]

What the olfactory receptors do is transform the chemical information of the wine’s aroma molecules into electrical signals. These electrical signals travel into the brain’s cerebral cortex; the deepest, most primitive and least ‘conscious’ part of the brain where the electronic impulses are translated back into the memory of our mother’s kiss, a feeling of hunger, the desire for a woman, the pleasure of luxury, the terror of darkness or the lingering scent of invisible lilacs. These involuntary but powerful stirring of our deepest emotions can all be released by the scent of a loved one’s pillow, the fragrance of a rose upon the evening air or the delicate aromas released by a glass of wine. Nothing is more powerful or evocative and less subject to our verbal skills or logical analysis than our sense of smell.

 One of my favorite times of year is the fall when I go mushroom hunting in France, combing through the woods of Perigord looking for cèpe mushrooms and truffles; stepping through the fallen leaves and savoring the musky dampness of the decaying vegetation. Most Spanish red wines have an earthy aroma that reminds me of my days in the woods and so for me the association of earthiness and damp leaves is pleasing and enhances my enjoyment of a good Tempranillo. But to another person, with different memories and experiences, the concept of damp organic decay might be totally disgusting and my enthusiastic description of the wine might persuade them never to try it. Worse still, because of the unpleasant associations created by my description, a person tasting the wine might possibly dislike it and unfairly discover in it all the bad qualities they imagined that I had suggested.

Wine drinkers therefore need to consciously train themselves to develop a commonly accepted vocabulary that will allow them to discuss wines with other people. With practice and concentration they can decide if a wine reminds them of fruit, or of vegetables, or wood, or fresh-cut-grass. If it reminds them of fruit - is it a berry fruit, a tropical fruit or a citrus? Over time, wine drinkers will discover a common language that enables them to share their impressions of a wine with other people using words and allusions that are mutually understood. But to develop such a vocabulary takes practice and conscious effort. The difference between a professional taster and the rest of us is training. Unfortunately the best wine class in the world, the best teacher, the best book can never impart that knowledge. It has to be accumulated, sip by sip, sniff by sniff, glass by glass by each individual wine drinker.


 The UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel at www.winearomawheel.com/ is a wonderful tool that will help the true connoisseur differentiate between the aromas of passion fruit and boysenberries but for the rest of us just learning to isolate the difference between a fruity taste and an earthy aroma is a good place to begin. Eric Asimov the excellent wine critic for the New York Times argues that we can divide all wines into sweet or savory. By sweet he does not mean sugary; he is rather referring to the impression of sweet that we get from a wine that is intensely fruity, plush, viscous and mouth-filling. By savory he means wines which are more austere with smoky, herbal, earthy and mineral tastes.


Monday, May 8, 2017

DESCRIBING WINE: [1]

One of the great challenges of wine appreciation is describing what we taste, not just to other people but even to ourselves. Translating what we smell or taste into words is far more difficult than translating what we see into words. While dogs for example experience the world mainly through their sense of smell, we humans are far more visual and we describe the world in terms of what we see with our eyes. From an early age we are encouraged to 'show and tell' but we are never taught to 'smell and tell'. All languages have a rich and sophisticated vocabulary for describing what we see, and we can be very precise in terms of color, shape, size and visual distance when communicating with others - but such a vocabulary does not exist for smells and tastes. There is no semantic tradition in any culture or in any language to describe the things we smell, in the way that we are able to identify things that we see.

In fact the whole process of smelling is limited to a single word: smell. There is a smell coming from the mushrooms; I smell the mushrooms; the mushrooms smell. The same single word is used to describe the odor, the detection of the odor and the action of the odor. Compare that to all the words we have for seeing, looking, watching, gazing, observing etc. We must therefore look around in our personal memories for similar smells and tastes to compare with the wine and then, when trying to share our experience, make subjective comparisons: "it tastes like dark chocolate with a hint of mushrooms and damp leaves."

Another problem is that the part of the brain which processes smells also handles emotions and memory; it's not only the most primitive part of the brain, it's also the most subjective and personal. Smells are chemicals, and as the wine is exposed to air and evaporates, chemical molecules rise from the glass, through our nose to the receptors in our olfactory cortex.


The olfactory cortex which evolved over the eons into the amygdala, is the very oldest part of our brain, and is where emotions and memories are processed. The very earliest job of the brain was to process smell: does it smell good or bad? Is it something I can eat, something I would like to have sex with or something I should run away from before it eats me? Memories of smells were therefore critical to survival and, even in the amygdala of the modern brain, the chemical processing of smells and emotions, memory and desire, are all intimately entwined at a primitive level.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Literature and Wine

Under the careful supervision of my father, I began drinking wine with meals at the age of five. Although mixed with water, it was unmistakably wine and we would discuss the taste and bouquet while my father would explain where and how it was made. At the same age, with the warm encouragement of my mother, I began a lifelong love-affair with books.

My earliest memories involve Christopher Robin, with Pooh and Tigger and then Rat and Mole from the Wind in the Willows. Weekends were spent lying on the floor in the local library, lost in the worlds of Kipling and Dickens and, above all, my beloved John Buchan. Another early memory concerns Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and asking my mother to explain ''But did thee feel the earth move?''

Shakespeare of course became an early love of mine and I still thrill to hear Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV [2], boldly proclaiming the joys and wonders of a glass, or two, of sherry. Likewise, in Richard III, I still feel a chill when the two murderers arrive at the Tower of London with orders to drown the Duke of Clarence in a barrel of wine. When the unsuspecting Duke asks the men for a glass of wine, the ‘second murderer’ calms him with a reassuring, “You shall have wine enough my lord, anon.”

And it is not just the English who associate wine with books. The twelfth-century Persian poet, Omar Kayan, famously wrote:

"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"

Indeed, as the writer Julian Street famously argued in his posthumous book, Table Topics: "Blot out every book in which wine is praised and you blot out the world’s great literature, from the Bible and Shakespeare to the latest best-seller. Blot out the wine-drinkers of the world and you blot out history, including saints, philosophers, statesmen, soldiers, scientists, and artists." - And what are you left with? Drumpf's 'Art of The Deal'!



Saturday, April 29, 2017

What is wine?

Wine is made from the fermented juice of fruit. Any fruit can be used to make wine and some of it is no doubt delicious. However, for the purpose of this book, our discussion of wine is limited to the fermented juice of grapes made from the Vitis vinifera vine which is native to the Eastern Mediterranean but is now planted worldwide.
Fermentation is a naturally occurring process in which the yeast found in the grapes converts the natural sugars into alcohol. The more sugar the grape contains, the higher the level of alcohol.
There are seven basic categories of wine:
  1. Red Wine: Made from dark skinned grapes when the skins remain with the juice during fermentation
  2. White Wine: Made from grapes with the (usually pale) skins removed before fermentation
  3. Rosé Wine: Made from dark skinned grapes when skins have been allowed brief contact with the juice during fermentation. Obviously, the longer the contact, the deeper the color will be
  4. Sparkling Wine: Wines which contain small bubbles of carbon-dioxide, either as a result of a secondary natural fermentation or through post-fermentation injection. The most famous come from the Champagne region of North-East France
  5. Distilled Wine: Brandy is made from fermented wines which have been distilled to 35 -60% alcohol and the name comes from the Dutch word brandewijn —‘burnt wine’. The best known brandies are Cognac and Armagnac, two regions in South-West France
  6. Fortified Wine: Made from fermented wine to which some brandy has been added, raising the alcohol level to about 18-20%. The most famous fortified wines are from Jerez (Sherry) in Southern Spain and Porto (Port) in Northern Portugal.
  7. Raisinated Wine: Rather than fermenting the juice of the freshly picked fruit, the grapes are allowed to dry in the sun, becoming more like raisins before they are crushed and allowed to ferment. This process, which is called appassimento in Italian, concentrates the sugars and thus results in a far higher alcohol level as well as a sweeter wine. Historically all the best and most expensive wines used to be made this way. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bordeaux's En Primeur

The following is an excerpt from an article on Bordeaux in the Snooth wine website

What exactly is En Primeur? 

The simplest answer is wine futures. Each spring the Grand Cru Classe chateaux produce barrel samples from the previous year’s vintage, in this case 2015. These wines are not ready for market, in fact they won’t be released for 1-3 years. Members of the international wine trade descend upon Bordeaux for a week to taste these samples. Upon conclusion a so called “buzz” is created. Is it a great vintage? Poor vintage? Average? Best in decades? How was the overall en primeur of the vintage received? At this point prices are determined and wine brokers, known as négociants, begin to sell the “futures.” This process is good for the chateaux because their risk of a poor vintage is spread out by the négociant; meaning a poor vintage still equals profit. Furthermore, the chateaux receives cash before the vintage is ready so they do not have to wait for barrel and bottle aging to profit from each vintage. The négociant is in a tough situation because in order to maintain their allocation they must buy their fully allotted amount in good vintages and in bad. If they chose to not take their full allocation in a poor vintage year they risk losing the allocation in a potentially good vintage year.

How does Bordeaux’s En Primeur affect wine consumers?

Interestingly, the average American wine consumer seemingly knows little or nothing about En Primeur. If you are an oenophile who seeks to stock your wine cellar with some of the highest quality Bordeaux from the best vintages with little concern of price, chances are you are well aware of En Primeur and have a wine merchant to supply you Bordeaux futures. If you are a wine consumer who enjoys Bordeaux and is constantly seeking a bargain En Primeurs has little to no effect on your wine buying and consumption. There used to be a discount for buying En Primeurs but it has diminished over the years. European wine press and consumers, especially in the UK, seem to be more attentive to En Primeur than their US counterparts. 




Tuesday, April 25, 2017

HEALTH BENEFITS OF WINE [3]

Blood clots and strokes:  Polyphenols – antioxidants in wine help protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart and a polyphenol called resveratrol reduces the risk of inflammation and clotting. A Colombia University study found that wine drinkers have 50 percent less probability of suffering a clot-related stroke than non-drinkers. The polyphenols in red wine appear to boost levels of HDL, the "good “cholesterol, and helps prevent artery-clogging LDLs, or “bad” cholesterol, from causing damage to the lining of arteries.

Cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, an active antioxidant in red wine called quercetin works against certain cancer cells, especially those in colon cancer. A Stony Brook University study shows that the consumption of red wine cuts the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent. It turns out that the same phenolic compounds that lower heart disease risk also may slow the growth of breast cancer cells, according to findings reported by scientists at the University of Crete in Greece.  Phenols also were shown to suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells. And French scientists found evidence that an antioxidant in wine called resveratrol can slow the growth of liver cancer cells. Researchers from the University Of Missouri School Of Dentistry discovered that red wine’s antioxidants, resveratrol and quercetin, may inhibit the growth of oral cancer cells.

Cataracts: An Icelandic study published in Nature shows that moderate drinkers are 32 percent less likely to get cataracts than non-drinkers. Wine drinkers are 43 percent less likely to get cataracts than beer drinkers.

Social Graces: Preliminary studies conducted by myself and certain associates have suggested that in addition to being good for your health, wine will improve your witty repartee, your clarity of enunciation and cognitive functionality and also enhance your dancing skills as well as making you sexually irresistible to other people.


Monday, April 24, 2017

HEALTH BENEFITS OF WINE [2]

Longevity: Wine's anti-aging properties have been recognized for more than a thousand years. Monasteries throughout Europe were convinced that their monks' longer lifespans, compared to the rest of the population, was partly due to their daily consumption of wine. A 29-year long Finnish study shows that wine drinkers have a 34 percent lower mortality rate than beer or vodka drinkers. Again, this is attributed to the antioxidant resveratrol which is found in the skins of red grapes. A study carried out at the University of London found that compounds commonly found in red wine, called procyanidins, keep blood vessels healthy and are one of the factors that contribute towards longer life spans enjoyed by the wine consuming people of the Mediterranean region.

Reduced Infection:  British and Spanish studies have shown that people who drink wine daily reduce their risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes gastritis, ulcers and stomach cancer, by as much as 11 percent.

Ovarian problems: When Australian researchers recently compared women with ovarian cancer to cancer-free women, they found that roughly one glass of wine a day seemed to reduce the risk of the disease by as much as 50 percent. Earlier research at the University of Hawaii produced similar findings.

Stronger bones: Women who drink wine daily have higher bone mass than women who don’t drink wine. The wine appears to boost estrogen levels which slow the body’s destruction of old bones and cut the risk of osteoporosis -- age-related bone thinning related to calcium loss. A report in the American Journal of Epidemiology in April 2000 showed that women who drank the equivalent of one to three glasses of wine -- had greater bone mineral density, measured in the hip region of their thighbones, than nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. Bone mineral density is the measure physicians use to determine bone strength and resilience.

Diabetes: A Harvard Medical School study as well as a study by Amsterdam’s VU University show that premenopausal women who drink one or two glasses of wine daily are 40 percent less likely to develop type-2-diabetes than women who abstain.

Heart-Attack: A Harvard study shows that wine drinkers suffering from high blood pressure are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers, while another study conducted by Queen Mary University in London shows that red wine tannins contain procynidins which protect against heart disease. According to the January 2000 issue of European Heart Journal, red wine appears to dilate arteries and increase blood flow, thus lowering the risk of the kind of clots that cut off blood supply and damage heart muscles.

This is part two of a three-part list of wine's health benefits.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

HEALTH BENEFITS OF WINE [1]

Wine has been used as a medicine for more than four-thousand years. Ancient Sumerian clay tables and Egyptian papyri, as old as 2200 BC, describe a wide variety of wine based medicines. The Greek physician Hippocrates considered wine an essential part of a healthy diet and also as a disinfectant for wounds as well as a cure everything from lethargy to diarrhea. The Ancient Greek poet Eubulus also recommended the daily consumption of wine for good health but only in moderation. For Eubulus, moderation meant three bowls of wine with a meal. The Greek bowl, or kylix, contained about 250 ml of wine so three bowls would be the equivalent of a modern, 750 ml, bottle of wine.
The relationship between wine and health was first brought to Americans’ attention in a 1991 edition of the TV program 60-Minutes when Morley Safer discussed the “French Paradox.” The paradox was that the French who, as a nation, are well-known for enjoying a delicious cuisine high in fats, suffer from a very low incidence of coronary heart disease. The program concluded that although the French diet is indeed high in saturated-fats it also includes a healthy dose of red wine which obviously counteracts the effects of the fat. Following the TV program, sales of red wine in the USA almost doubled as Americans concluded that the increased consumption of Merlot would make them healthy, slim and, hopefully, as elegant as the French.
Even if drinking red wine does not make you look like Catherine Deneuve, recent research has shown that the health benefits are still not inconsiderable.


Memory Protection: Researchers at the University of Arizona tested women in their 70s and found those that drank wine daily scored much better in memory quizzes than those who did not drink wine. The powerful antioxidant resveratrol protects against cell damage and prevents age-related mental decline such as Alzheimer’s. In a study by Loyola University Medical Center, the researchers gathered and analyzed data from academic papers on red wine since 1977. The studies, which spanned 19 nations, showed a statistically significantly lower risk of dementia among regular red wine drinkers in 14 countries. The investigators explained that resveratrol reduces the stickiness of blood platelets, which helps keep the blood vessels open and flexible. This helps maintain a good blood supply to the brain.

This is the first of a three-part list of wine's health benefits.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Best Wine Books

The trouble with doing a 'favorite books' list is that as soon as you've compiled a list, you discover another book that should have been included. The following is the list of favorite wine books which I have listed in my own book.

Campbell, Christy: The Botanist and the Vintner, Algonquin Books
Clarke, Oz: The History of wine in 100 Bottles, Stirling Publishing.
Colman, Tyler: Wine Politics, University of California Press
Dovas, Michel & Guillard, Michel: Bordeaux: Legendary Wines, Assouline
Heskett & Butler: Divine Vintage, Palgrave Macmillan
Johnson, Hugh & Robinson Jancis, World Atlas of Wine, Simon & Schuster
Johnson, Hugh: Pocket Wine Book, Mitchell Beasley
Johnson, Hugh: Vintage – The Story of Wine, Simon & Schuster
Kliman, Todd: The Wild Vine, Clarkson Potter Publishers
Keevil, Susan: Wines of the World, Metro Books, (D. Kindersley)
Lukacs, Paul: Inventing Wine, W.W. Norton & Company
MacNeil, Karen: The Wine Bible, Workman Publishing
Pitte, Jean-Robert: Bordeaux vs. Burgundy, U. of California Press
Potter, Maximillian: Shadows in the Vineyard, Twelve, Hachette Book Group
Robinson, Jancis: Guide to Wine Grapes, Oxford University Press
Robinson, Jancis: [Editor] The Oxford Companion to Wine, OUP
Saporta, Isabelle: VINO Business, The Cloudy World of French Wine, Grove Press
Steinberger, Michael: The Wine Savant, W.W. Norton & Company
Taber, George: Judgment of Paris, Scribner
Veseth, Mike: Wine Wars, Rowman & Littlefield
Wallace, Benjamin: The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Crown Publishers

Too late to make my list, I have just discovered the following wonderful study of the origen of wine:

Patrick E. McGovern: Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origens of Viniculture, Princeton University Press


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Wine Movies

The following is a list of my favorite movies concerning wine
  • Red Obsession (2013 documentary.) Beautiful and splendid study of Bordeaux wines and China
  • SOM (2012 documentary) The training and trials of becoming a certified sommelier.
  • A Year in Burgundy (2013 Documentary). Martine Saunier follows seven Burgundian wine making families through 12 months of work.
  • A Year In Champagne (2015 Documentary) Martine Saunier does the same thing for the wine makers of Champagne.
  • Mondovino (2004 documentary) The globalization of the world’s wine industry
  • Sideways (2004 comedy.) A paean to Pinot Noir and an attack on Merlot
  • Bottleshock (2008 comedy.) Roughly based on ‘The Judgment of Paris’.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sideways

I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive – it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks – like your ’61 – and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good. 
Virginia Madsen as Maya in the movie Sideways


Monday, April 10, 2017

CHENIN BLANC and RABELAIS.

In the Booklovers' Guide to Wine, I have paired various writers with appropriate varietals of grape. For example  I have paired Chenin Blanc with Rabelais.

Chenin Blanc is a white grape that is commonly grown in the middle Loire Valley of France. It is also cultivated in South Africa and California. It makes white wines that are fragrant and high in acid. Chenin Blanc can make wines that range in style from dry to very sweet depending on decisions made by the individual winemaker, subject to the specific conditions of the season. 

The town of Vouvray, in Touraine on the Loire for example, is famous for sweet, dry and sparkling versions of Chenin Blanc. Because of the high acidity in wines made from Chenin Blanc, they tend to age very well. In Saumur, also on the Loire, Chenin Blanc is used to make sparkling wines of notable quality. 

Between Saumur and Vouvray lies the historic town of Chinon whose wines were immortalized by Rabelais, the 15th century writer, humanist, physician and philosopher. His writings, most notably Gargantua and Pantagruel, are wild, bawdy and drunken fantasies filled with fornicating friars and naughty nuns but all of whom swear by the healing powers of the Chenin Blanc wines from the vineyards of Chinon. Just as the Chenin Blanc wine can be extremely dry or extremely sweet, so too the writings of Rabelais range from the most lewd and vulgar to the most profound, and he is regrded as one of the fathers of modern European literature.

Chenin Blanc is known elsewhere as Pineau de la Loire. It is the most planted grape in South Africa where its local name is Steen. Chenin Blanc is a high volume producer so the wines it produces tend to be fairly inexpensive. Western Australia’s Margaret River produces some of the world’s finest Chenin Blanc but, because of its remoteness, they are hard to find in America.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Summer Wine

Books & Books in Coral Gables has announced the dates of its next Wine Appreciation Program, entitled "Summer Wine".

The program begins on Monday, June 19 and will continue till July 24.

The class, as always, will be hosted by the well-known and much loved, local wino, Patrick Alexander.

Nancy Sinatra will unfortunately not be able to attend, but sends her best wishes with this rendition of Summer Wine


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Joys of Cheap Wine

There is a wonderful article of the science and pleasures of cheap, affordable wine by Ben Panco in the current edition of The Smithsonion.

The article begins with "We live in a golden age of wine, thanks in part to thirsty millennials and Americans seemingly intent on out-drinking the French. Yet for all its popularity, the sommelier's world is largely a mysterious one. Bottles on grocery store shelves come adorned with whimsical images and proudly proclaim their region of origin, but rarely list ingredients other than grapes. Meanwhile, while ordering wine at a restaurant can often mean pretending to understand terms like "mouthfeel," "legs" or "bouquet."

"I liked wine the same way I liked Tibetan hand puppetry or theoretical particle physics," writes journalist Bianca Bosker in the introduction to her new book Cork Dork, "which is to say I had no idea what was going on but was content to smile and nod."

You can read more at the Smithsonion.com



Sunday, April 2, 2017

English wine experts

The reason I have been silent and ‘blogless’ the past few days is that my wife has gone off to the South of France to visit her sister. So obviously, in her absence, everything has fallen apart; dishes are piling-up in the sink, dogs are peeing (and worse) all over the house and we are rapidly running out of wine.

I had given my wife a draft copy of my new book ‘The Booklover’s Guide to Wine’ to take with her as a present to impress my in-laws However, just this evening when I was hoping for a little sympathy (and advice about doggie hygiene) I learned that my brother-in-law is the son of somebody who has already written all that needs to be said on the subject of wine.



I am distraught.  (And they wonder why I drink!)

Mind you, long before I met my wife or her sister met Roger, George Ordish had already written another book, called "Wine Growing in England" – 1957. In any event, I am proud to be associated in however an oblique and indirect manner with such a visionary. He obviously knew all about Climate Change - and the incipient English wine industry in which the wines of the South Downs would eventually surpass those of Champagne.




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Apologies!

unfortunately the terribly amusing and wine-centric video of my granddaughter enjoying wine that I just posted a few moments does not work as a video. But I do most earnestly assure you that it was terribly funny and cute. You had to be there of course.

Maybe this will work:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QaNR-COKCQ

Wine and youth

My wife just left for France today to visit some of  our grandchildren.
Here is our youngest. 




Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Oysters & white wine

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” 


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wine and Life

As Christopher Hitchens said: " It's not a coincidence that Omar Khayyam, rebuking and ridiculing the stone-faced Iranian mullahs of his time, pointed to the value of the grape as a mockery of their joyless and sterile regime."

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou 
Beside me singing in the Wilderness-- 
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run, 
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop, 
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape 
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and 
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice 
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute:

Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit 
Of This and That endeavor and dispute; 
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape 
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press 
End in what All begins and ends in--Yes; 
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday You were--
To-morrow You shall not be less.

What, without asking, hither hurried Whence?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend, 
Before we too into the Dust descend; 
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie 
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!


From The Rubaiyat. By Omar Khayyam, 1120 A.C.E.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hitch on Wine

It is almost six years since 'Hitch' was taken from us, but his wisdom remains:

“Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. The only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament—the transmutation of water into wine during the wedding at Cana—is a tribute to the persistence of Hellenism in an otherwise austere Judaea. The same applies to the seder at Passover, which is obviously modeled on the Platonic symposium: questions are asked (especially of the young) while wine is circulated. No better form of sodality has ever been devised: at Oxford one was positively expected to take wine during tutorials. The tongue must be untied. It's not a coincidence that Omar Khayyam, rebuking and ridiculing the stone-faced Iranian mullahs of his time, pointed to the value of the grape as a mockery of their joyless and sterile regime. Visiting today's Iran, I was delighted to find that citizens made a point of defying the clerical ban on booze, keeping it in their homes for visitors even if they didn't particularly take to it themselves, and bootlegging it with great brio and ingenuity. These small revolutions affirm the human.”

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Friday, March 24, 2017

Deep Thoughts

As the American philosopher, Jack Handey, reminds us, we should always try to put our social obligations ahead of our personal considerations.

 “Sometimes when I reflect back on all the wine I drink, I feel shame! Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the vineyards and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this wine, they might be out of work, and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, ‘It is better that I drink this wine and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.”
Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bordeaux or Burgundy?

“Your Honor,’ an old marquise once asked, from her end of the table to the other, ‘which do you prefer, a wine from Bordeaux or from Burgundy?’

‘Madame,’ the magistrate who was thus questioned answered in a druidic tone, ‘that is a trial in which I so thoroughly enjoy weighing the evidence that I always put off my verdict until the next week.’

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. The Physiology of Taste. 1852

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More Claret!

Another English writer, Nick Harkaway, was even more enthusiastic in his praise of claret:


"I hover over the expensive Scotch and then the Armagnac, but finally settle on a glass of rich red claret. I put it near my nose and nearly pass out. It smells of old houses and aged wood and dark secrets, but also of hard, hot sunshine through ancient shutters and long, wicked afternoons in a four-poster bed. It's not a wine, it's a life, right there in the glass."

Keats and Claret

In terms of a literary pairing for Claret, nobody wrote with such enthusiasm for the wine of Bordeaux as the English poet, John Keats. In the spring of 1819, he wrote to his brother George as follows:

“Now I like Claret and whenever I can have Claret I must drink it. It is the only palate affair that I am at all sensual in. For really it is so fine. It fills the mouth, one’s mouth with a gushing freshness, then goes down cool and feverless, then you do not feel it quarrelling with your liver, no it is rather a Peace maker and lies as quiet as it did in the grape. Then it is as fragrant as the Queen Bee; and the more ethereal part of it mounts into the brain, not assaulting the cerebral apartments like a bully in a bad house looking for his whore and hurrying from door to door bouncing against the wainscot; but rather walks like Aladdin about his own enchanted palace so gently that you do not feel his step. Other wines of a heavy and spirituous nature transform a Man into a Silenus; this makes him a Hermes, and gives a Woman the soul and immortality of Ariadne for whom Bacchus always kept a good cellar of claret.”  


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chianti and cheese

The Miami Herald published my letter to the Editor this morning.

I am the same age as our president and understand, indeed sympathize, with his late-night impulse to just be himself. How many years do I have left, I ask myself as, after checking that my wife is asleep, I thinly slice some Parmesan cheese, open a can of anchovy filets in olive oil and pour another glass of Chianti to wash them down — while skulking in the kitchen. It’s an old man’s thing — we can do stuff that young folk can’t get away with.

I might write inappropriate late-night letters to the editor of the Miami Herald, but I do not insult a previous president on Twitter or casually jeopardize our relationship with this nation’s closest allies. Only crazy people do things like that, however late it is.


Patrick Alexander, Coral Gables

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pot pairings & good cheap wine

This Sunday’s New York Times (March 19, 2017) had two unusual but very interesting articles concerning wine.

Pot & Wine Pairings: The first article featured the wine country of Sonoma California which is famous not only for the quality of its vines but also for the quality of its cannabis – which it is now legal to grow and to consume recreationally.
Taking advantage of these two home-grown pleasures and supporting the local economy, some Sonoma restaurants are now offering wine & pot pairing dinners.

"Sam Edwards, co-founder of the Sonoma Cannabis Company, charges diners $100 to $150 for a meal that experiments with everything from marijuana-leaf pesto sauce to sniffs of cannabis flowers paired with sips of a crisp Russian River chardonnay.
“It accentuates the intensity of your palate,” Mr. Edwards, 30, said of the dinners, one of which was held recently at a winery with sweeping views of the Sonoma vineyards. “We are seeing what works and what flavors are coming out.”
Read more of Thomas Fuller's article at the NYT:  http://tinyurl.com/kjvkgv6 

Pleasures of cheap, delicious wine:  The second article confronts wine snobs head-on by offering a detailed and well-argued defense of ‘processed’ wines. The writer, Bianca Bosker, argues that there is nothing inherently superior in natural, unadulterated, fermented grape-juice, as opposed to juice which has been processed by the wine maker. Adding everything to the wine from resin, to crushed marble or egg whites to ox-blood has been a common practice since even before the Romans. With all the technologies of the twenty-first century, wine makers are now able to reproduce all the subtle pleasures of the very best and rarest wines in cheap and accessible versions for the rest of us.
Read the full article by Bianca Bosker at NYT: http://tinyurl.com/mv8v4b4